TODAY’S FORECAST: Appreciative
As long as I can remember, I have had an immense fascination with the story of Helen Keller. I remember as a little girl discovering the children’s edition of the story in our elementary school library and checking it out for the first time. I remember climbing up to my favorite reading spot in the tree out front of my childhood home and working my way through its chapters. I remember being intrigued by both the Braille and Manual alphabets that were printed at the back of the book, trying to imitate the raised bumps with a pencil on paper and learning the hand formations that represent each letter of the alphabet. I even remember the little pouch with the blue library check-out card where I had written my name repeatedly, indicating I’d renewed it over and over again.
For those of you who might not be familiar with her story, Helen Keller was an author, speaker and political activist. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. An illness (believed now to be scarlet fever or meningitis) made her deaf and blind. The most famous adaptation of her story is the Miracle Worker, in which Helen’s dark and silent world is unlocked by her beloved teacher, Anne Sullivan.
I have read multiple adaptations of this story, seen multiple dramatic productions and watched multiple movies on TV. There is something about the story that is so engaging to me, though I’m not sure I could pinpoint just one item specifically. Maybe it is simply the story of her perseverance that grabs me. Imagine having no sight and sound in the world around you. Imagine the frustration of not being able to communicate because you have no concept of words or language. Even now, when I hear video clips of her speaking in her garbled, broken speech, I ironically find myself speechless (and in tears) when she begins addressing the cameras.
She was a prolific writer. To hear her tell her story in her own words in the first few chapters of her autobiography, The Story of My Life, is nothing short of profound. Despite having not seen or heard anything of the environment around her, she paints a picture so detailed that it leaves you awestruck. There are perfectly seeing and hearing authors that would give their right arm to write prose such as this. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to check it out.
I guess you would probably call me a Helen Keller “junkie,” though “aficionado” or “enthusiast” would probably be preferred. Whatever you want to call it, this woman inspires me intensely. Recently, I came across a page on the Internet entitled “Helen Keller Jokes.” None of them are new, they’ve been around for decades, but I just don’t find them funny. In fact, some I found downright repulsive. For someone who overcame such odds to become such an active humanitarian for our country, I just don’t understand the need to “poke fun.”
I’d like to share a YouTube clip of Helen with her friend Polly Thompson, addressing one of her greatest disappointments in life, “not being able to speak normally.” For what she could not speak independently, she says with overpowering grace. Hats off to you, Helen Keller. Thank you for inspiring us all.